The Wild Garden at Moone Athy


The wild flower garden began just ahead of the bulldozer at Taille de Noyer. Granny (in her usual gardening costume of an old tweed skirt and a scarf tied peasant fashion over her head) and I worked frantically to rescue clumps of jonquils from the border. The school board of the Ferguson Florissant District had taken our farm in Florissant by right of eminent domain. They were leveling off Granny’s lawns and borders for a football field while we worked.

We brought several clumps of Mertensia to Moone Athy and planted them at the foot of the steep hill behind the house. We planned to have a walk through the big walnut trees. The walk would curve its way down the hill side. Granny and Grizelda always thought in big sweeps. It soon became apparent to them that we would run out of room in that direction for the bottom of the hill was to be a meadow.

The wild flower walk moved to the old logging road along the creek at the foot of the hill south of the house. We followed the creek, finding wild larkspur, bloodroot, spring beauties. We crossed the creek just where another little creek joined it, and followed an “almost there” path through a little wooded strip at the edge of the water. There were white violets, Phlox Divaricata, Miami mist, wild geranium, bellwort. There was a deep pool with minnows and the roots of old trees going down into the water, dark in the clear water.

Coming out into the Deer Print Valley and crossing it diagonally you come to an old logging road that goes up a rocky, flinty hill. There is a dammed up stream at the side of that hill and that cold bleak hillside is covered with birdsfoot violet. Frogs jump into the pool as you approach. Bloodroot grows below it. One year the children counted eighteen different kinds of wild flowers on that hill side. But this is not part of the wild flower garden proper. It flourishes all on its own. The underlying rock is so near the surface that the shallow soil is inhospitable to grass and brambly bushes.

The most helpful thing I ever did was to take a course one spring. Dr. Edgar Anderson was giving the course at Grey Summit. He was on the staff at the Missouri Botanical Garden and was giving the course on botany to Washington University students. He said I could come because I had sent him a little watercolor sketch of a wild flower growing near the creek. He had identified it as meadow sweet, rare for our area.

We went out to walk in the woods starting on a snowy day in March. He pointed out lichen and mosses and identified trees from their bark. Never pick up fallen branches, fallen trees. They should be left where they fall. Drifts of autumns leaves will be held by them. And in a few years that is where you will find drifts of wild flowers. This will also stop gullies from forming.

Wild flowers are in a hurry to bloom. They must bloom before the leaves of trees overhead come out. After the trees leaf out, it will be too shady for the wild flowers to bloom. But they need the shade to protect them from the invasion of grass, which would choke them out. What a disaster when a tenant cut down trees along the creek because he didn’t want shade in his hay meadows!

You must try to give any transplants the same kind of situation they were originally growing in. Grizelda and I planted birdsfoot violets from the high gritty hill side to the low creek bottoms. They all died. Hairy puccoon we see occasionally growing in the open spaces of high hill top logging roads. Leave it there. Transplanted in the wild garden they die. I knew better by this time that to fool around with Indian paint brush. It grows in the high meadow near the pond.

Our successes: Polky brought white trillium from the woods around Vouziers. It has thrived along the wooded path past the pool with minnows. A flowering crab Polky planted fell over in a storm. The part bending over to the ground rooted itself. Cut free from the original crab tree, it throve and the original branched out again, so there are now two of them. Bob’s primrose, planted when he was home on leave from Vietnam, has become a colony above Katherine’s pool.

Granny and I tried repeatedly to get blue eyed Mary to grow. Susan McCullogh gave us a start several times. It always went perfectly limp and hopeless after transplanting to a nice, moist, shady creek bottom. Finally some of the poor, dejected little flowers must have seeded themselves. It think it’s an annual. One year a patch, next year a drift, and after that tides of it. There was none of it anywhere at Moone Athy before that. Also we never found Mertensia at Moone Athy, except the original transplants, with little colonies of seedlings around them. I can tell you the origin of every patch ofMertensia. Carol Goessling Gatch was very generous with it. It grew allover her creek adjoining lawns when she and E. S. lived on Picardy Lane.

The Mahaffeys (Katherine Walsh, Adelaide Schlafly, D.l. Carpenter Moore, Betsy Mullins) gave us a splendid gift of narcissus, grape hyacinths and other bulbs in memory of Granny and Grizelda. Polky, Alicia and I planted and planted. When Alicia and I could do no more, POlky continued alone. Alicia came back with Rosalie Hinch and finished the job.

The garden club I belong to, “The Planters,” had a meeting one spring at Ed Cherbonnier’s wild flower garden near the Missouri River, near St. Charles. He let us take starts of Iris Cristata. All the Iris Cristata we have come from a few trowelsfull from Ed Cherbonnier’s garden.

Grizelda was wonderful about having the underbrush cut down in late summer (after the wild flowers had had time to seed themselves). She also worked hard at keeping the poison ivy at bay.

The best way to increase the wild flowers is to weed around your little treasures as they are in bloom in the spring. Then gently scratch in bone rpeal and compost. They will then have a nice seed bed and will propagate themselves.

When I think of the wild flower garden, I think of all the friends who have helped us. I think of Katherine going up the creek with a friend to wade one warm spring day, the first spring after we had bought the farm. The two small girls returned dripping wet from their hair down. They had discovered Katherine’s Pool and had had a lovely swim. Sarah Fehlig has planted many little bulbs: Chronodoxia, fritillarias, scillas and shored them up with little retaining walls of rock from the creek. And I think of how many people have enjoyed walking in the wild garden and picnicking on the big rocks by the waterfall. And it seems a very happy, ongoing thirty year project.

Thanks to the gentle pestering by Sarah Dunn we have this history of the Wildflower Garden at Moone Athy from Aunt Delphine